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Union demands larger investigation into reporter suicide

Toronto Star reporter took her own life in May


(Canadian OH&S News) — Less than two months after a reporter at Canada’s largest newspaper took her own life, the publication has agreed to an external review of its workplace culture — but the union representing its journalists is pushing for a broader investigation into how that culture may have contributed to the tragedy.

Award-winning Toronto Star global-environment reporter Raveena Aulakh, who was 42, committed suicide in late May. In a June 7 editorial, Star public editor Kathy English revealed that Aulakh had been involved in a relationship with senior manager Jon Filson, one that had ended shortly before the tragedy, and that she had accused Filson of also being involved with managing editor Jane Davenport, his supervisor.

“Those in the highest levels of senior management at the Star… have conducted a thorough internal investigation following revelations and allegations made by [Aulakh] in emails sent to several people in the newsroom,” English wrote, adding that both Filson and Davenport had been fired from the paper following the internal investigation.

Paul Morse, the president of Unifor Local 87-M, told COHSN that his union had agreed to participate in the Star’s upcoming external review, but would continue to call for a fuller, independent investigation.

“We see real value in starting a process that at least moves things forward,” said Morse. “But we do so without jeopardizing our call for this large investigation. We told the company upfront that we’ll agree to participate in this depending on the conditions that they put forward.”

Morse explained that the employer was planning to hire a clinical facilitator who would examine the Star’s newsroom culture. “But they’ve placed severe restrictions on that,” he added. “This facilitator would not be allowed to look at anything surrounding the Raveena situation at all.

“We’re looking for an investigation where somebody can come in with relatively free reign and to look at all the aspects that need to be looked at and ask the tough questions, and then hopefully come up with some significant recommendations and help the Toronto Star move forward in its healing.”

Unifor Local 87-M filed a grievance under a collective agreement in the wake of Aulakh’s death, seeking a full, external investigation of the paper’s workplace culture.

“There are some serious questions that need to be asked about the culture of the newsroom itself, the interaction between management and employees and how to move forward in healing that particular situation,” said Morse.

“We believe that there are factors at play that have contributed to its becoming a more toxic workplace than it might have been in the past, and really, only an external investigator at this point is going to be able to fully get to the roots of those issues, if they exist.”

A recent memo to newsroom staff from John Honderich — chairman of Torstar, the corporation that owns the newspaper — and Star editor Michael Cooke reportedly stated that management did not agree with the union’s allegation of a poisonous work environment, but admitted that staff members had raised “legitimate concerns.”

“I have worked in newsrooms for 40 years and have never seen anything like the level of grief and anger exploding here,” English wrote in her June editorial.